We spent two and a half weeks in the Seattle, Washington area this summer. The weather and geography were gorgeous and just perfect for hijabis. The sky is a marvelous blue, much bluer than anything we have here in Maryland. At night the low temperatures were in the 50’s and during the day, the highs were in the 70’s.
Cruising up and down the highway there is the Olympic mountain range with its crown jewel, the majestic 14,000 foot snow covered peak of Mount Rainier, and the Cascade mountain range on the other side. Beneath you are the many lakes from Lake Washington to Lake Union to the ferries on Puget Sound and so many fantastic parks with amazing greenery. A bit farther out on the Olympic peninsula lies the great logging roads, tree farms and huge swaths of clear-cut trees, rainforest, hiking trails, and the beaches on the Pacific Ocean.
I’ve been up and down the East Coast and as far west as Chicago but the beauty of the landscape in the state of Washington has no equal in my limited experience traveling through the States.
While we were in the Seattle area, we went masjid-hopping to get a feel of the flavor of the Muslim community and I came away with a feeling of thankfulness for living in the DC metro area where the community is diverse, vibrant, and we are mostly spoiled for choice in choosing which masjid to frequent.
The first week, we went to jumuah at a masjid with a minaret. The parking situation was almost non-existent so we parked a couple blocks up on the side of the road and walked back to the masjid. The masjid was neither stroller-friendly nor wheelchair accessible and the sister’s area was up a flight of stairs in a small balcony section. We were packed in there like sardines but were able to see the imam on the minbar down below in the more spacious men’s section.
One of the highlights of the masjid hopping tour was a visit to the masjid where Abdulbary Yahya serves as the imam. There is a diverse community and a large population of Cham Muslims. Abdulbary gives lectures exclusively to the sisters twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays before Maghrib.
The sister’s section is upstairs, cut off from the men’s section except for the speakers although the sound quality was good, much larger than in the other masajid we visited except for maybe the Bellevue masjid and contains a bathroom for wudu, a kitchen area, but again it is not stroller or wheelchair accessible. The shoe racks are outside on the cramped landing and exposed to the elements.
We visited a small masjid in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Seattle, Masjid AbuBakr and it is a pretty unremarkable building, the sister’s section is separated from the brother’s section. There was not much going on at the time we visited and there were only three people, two sisters and one brother there so we did not get much sense of the community.
We drove a bit farther out and visited a masjid that was in a house-like structure. The imam was giving his weekly sister’s lecture to a group of about 7-10 sisters. The imam was in the brother’s section somewhere down below, completely cut off from the sisters speaking into a microphone. The sound quality from the speakers were clear but there was a definite disconnect without any visual stimuli. We did not stay for the question and answer session but I wonder how that session was carried out, either with a microphone or with written questions.
We went to the Bellevue masjid a couple of times. The men’s section is on the first floor and occasionally if there is overflow they also take one of the three rooms upstairs usually reserved for sisters and children. The sections of the masjid on the second floor reserved for sisters are only connected to the brother’s section by speaker and microphone, there are no visuals whatsoever, although the space is comfortable and the adjacent area is good for sisters that are not praying and there were toys to play with for the children.
We attended the sisters’ weekly halaqah before Maghrib given by another sister. There was good turnout, another halaqah for younger sisters was going on at the same time in the next room, and there was a lot of participation and back and forth during the halaqah to inject a sense of vibrancy and community into the material being reviewed.
All in all, I love the climate and geography of the Seattle area and wouldn’t mind moving there except for the fact that the community is not as large or active or sister-friendly as it is here in the DC area. I now have much more sympathy for Asra Nomani choosing to pray in the brother’s section at her local masjid in West Virginia. If I lived out in Seattle, I could see myself agitating for some changes and better accommodation or taking a stand and going to pray in the men’s section. And then I might write a book called Standing Alone in Seattle.
We know the hadeeth about not preventing women from praying in the masajid and that their homes are better for them. We also know that there are immense benefits derived from the positive reinforcement of coming together to meet and network with sisters, learning the religion, doing activities together, and praying and breaking our fasts communally that are not so easily dismissed with appeals for us to stay at home.
From the Storehouse:
Women’s Jihad – Praying in the Masjid